When we set aside all the modern perceptions we have attached to yoga such as it makes you more flexible, develops core, helps you to lose weight, calms you down and we strip back the images of yoga is associated with the East, incense, chanting and mystical gurus, we are left with a system that is truly amazing in making you astute, strong and incredibly tactile on a physical, mental and emotional level. Here is why:
YOGA IS A WORK OUT
Many people are surprised that they can build up a sweat during a yoga class. It is not the same as the one you develop during a gym session lifting weights and running on a treadmill, but it is an intense sweat that tells you have done something much deeper and profound to your body. Most yogis will tell you also that they don’t know how to explain this phenomenon, but despite the stiff and sore muscles two days later they overall feel amazing, alive and much more connected to themselves. They find inner strength in their practice and I have many yogis who would tell me that if they skip a week of yoga they can feel it, physically, mentally and emotionally. So what is happening?
SO, WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?
Why has this 5,000 year old science suddenly become so popular?
Yoga does a lot more for the body than most people realize, it is not just about increasing flexibility or developing a calm mind. It is not necessary to sit in the crossed legged lotus position, chant OM, or be able to put your legs behind your head (but it does make for a very cool party trick!).
- develops strength and endurance,
- enhances your focus,
- improves your balance, and
- increases your performance in every aspect of your life
It works the whole body synergistically, working every joint, muscle and fibre improving all of your bodies functions.
Yoga is the best medicine for preventing injuries and aiding muscle recovery and repair. When the muscles and surrounding tissues are lengthened and relaxed during yoga asana it creates more room for blood to flow. And increased blood flow carries vital healing energies to those injured and inflamed parts of your body, thus accelerating healing.
This in turn attracts more oxygen to the area helping muscles to heal and grow, making them more effective for your next workout (and less sore in everyday life). As an added bonus yoga also helps to flush lactic acid from the system. The squeezing and releasing motions the yoga postures create invite the good stuff in and push the bad stuff out.
Practicing yoga also increases your range of motion (ROM) which is beneficial for all activities allowing you to swing further, reach higher, dip lower, step wider etc. With this increased ROM it is easy to see how you would be able to put more power and explosiveness behind your movements. With increase in muscle elasticity on top of this you are going to decrease you risk of injury tenfold.
BULK VERSUS TOTAL BODY CONSCIOUSNESS
Weight training and cardiovascular activity such as running tightens and shortens the muscles while yoga lengthens and builds functional strength. It teaches you how to use this strength effectively – look at an average yoga class, there are bodies of Vata, Pitta and Kapha, but they can all do more or less the same things you would throw at them during a standard yoga class. In a gym it is much more varied, some tiny body just can’t lift the same weights that a big bulky one can. But in a yoga class that same tiny body and that same bulky body will be able to do the same balance or stretch you throw at them. And this is what makes yoga so appealing and amazing, it is literally for every body!
What is the point of having all this strength if you can’t use it? The level of concentration needed to maintain balancing postures also gives you a great lesson in focus and the importance of having a calm mind.
WHY DOESN’T STATIC STRETCHING ACHIEVE THIS RESULT?
Yoga is different from other modes of stretching because it works on full muscle groups and not just isolated muscles, bringing all the little supporting muscles into the game as well. During your study of Anatomy, we have seen that many asanas can be used to help the neck, shoulder as well as the hip for example. A single asana can focus on 3 or 4 major muscles groups and work them as once. It is like opera, if you get 4 people to just speak, it will be chaotic, but is you add a tune and a piano for example they can sing that same dialogue in complete harmony to the ear. The same with yoga, the asana is the tune and adds the harmony needed by the body to make different muscles work together in great synchronicity.
Not only does yoga decrease the risk of injury it also can increase your muscle endurance and pain threshold. In yoga you learn correct breathing techniques that teach you how to have better control of your oxygen intake, monitoring the inhalations and exhalations allowing you to use the breath more efficiently as well as using it to move through pain.
Along with all the benefits you will gain physically it is also important to mention the mental clarity and focus gained from a regular yoga practise. Jumping on the mat allows you to draw the senses inwards for awhile and regain your composure and sense of self. It puts you back in touch with what is true for you and allows you to reassess where you are, and to start fresh every day.
It teaches you to work with what you have on that day because everyday the body has something different to offer and to teach. By coming more in touch with your body you are able to work with it, not against it. When you can hear what the body needs you are able to work together to go beyond your boundaries in a way you never considered before.
Personally for me one of the great benefits of yoga is that it teaches us to be present in the moment. I have done this many times in a class, I would ask my yogis to do an asana, usually a balancing one as it demonstrates this principle in yoga best, I would ask them to really concentrate, think, breath and then do it and hold the asana. The result is stunning everybody in the class is able to hold the balance in a steady manner for an extended time. I would bring them out, ask them to feel what they have done and then ask them to do the asana again. But this time as they start to hold the asana I would ask them to think about their day, problems at work or home and suddenly the whole class starts to fall apart! And this is the beauty of yoga, it teaches us that we can be in the moment, that it does help us to set our day and problems aside for a moment and that we can attain inner strength and tenacity from our practice.
So instead of asking me why you should be doing yoga perhaps I should ask you why you are not doing yoga. What have you got to lose?
Google “yoga and hypertension” or “yoga and high blood pressure” and the number of articles are just staggering in support of yoga being beneficial in assisting to regulate blood pressure. One thing is also very clear from all these articles and research and that is that yoga is not a cure for hypertension, just an aid in helping to ensure a lowered blood pressure. The one thing that is missing from most of these articles is the data to support their findings, so when one of my yogis who is busy doing her Yoga Teacher’s Training Course with me reached the module on yoga and high blood pressure, we decide it would be a good exercise for her to collect some data on blood pressures pre and post a yoga class.
The class was a normal Hatha yoga class of 45 minutes followed by a 15 minute period of relaxation. We basically took everybody’s BP before class and then again after class directly after relaxation session. And the info from that is in support of what most studies find, yoga does lower the blood pressure. With the exception of three blood pressures that showed an increase, the rest all decreased. Here with a chart of the pre and post BP’s:
Yoga can be a very effective and non-invasive way of reducing high blood pressure. It is particularly effective in reducing the diastolic number – which is the most important. It is suggested that people with high blood pressure should only practice certain asanas (postures), whilst acknowledging that there are other asanas that are not suitable for them. The yogic practices of meditation and pranayama (breathing exercises) are also particularly beneficial for people who suffer from high blood pressure. We did not include any specific pranayama, but focussed throughout the class on proper deep breathing. As an inversion we did include Halasana (plow pose) followed by Viparita Karani (legs up the wall pose). I gave no special instructions or warning during this class about what they could and couldn’t do, we decided that all classes would be uniform and the same practice was repeated for three classes.
People with high blood pressure are usually cautioned to be careful in approaching exercise. This is generally because vigorous exercise puts stress on the cardiovascular system, including raising heart-rate and blood pressure. Before engaging in any sort of exercise program, including yoga of any type or variety, people with any sort of cardiovascular condition including high blood pressure should consult their physician. However, yoga asanas are not considered to be cardiovascular exercises as such. Rather than placing the focus on cardiovascular fitness yoga is more about achieving a balance between body and mind, energizing your body in the process. According to The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali an “asana is a steady comfortable posture”. During most exercise practices the heart is put under stress as the requirement for blood and oxygen is increased. In asanas however, the requirement for blood and oxygen decreases as there are not strains and every muscle is relaxed. When done with conscious breathing asanas balance and stabilize autonomic nervous system resulting in the regulation of blood pressure.
The asanas that regulate the blood pressure belong to the forward bends, supine, sitting, and some of the inversions group. However forward bends are the fundamental asanas to be practiced by persons suffering from high blood pressure, as the sense organs: eyes, nose, throat and tongue are relaxed thereby resting the sympathetic nervous and creating a positive effect on the parasympathetic system. It the appendix of his book Light on Yoga, B. K. S. Iyengar recommends the following asanas for individuals suffering from high blood pressure: Plow Pose, Head to Knee Pose, Heroes Pose, Accomplished Pose, Lotus Position, Corpse Pose and the Pachimotonasana Series: Half Lotus Intense Stretch Pose, Three Limbs Facing Intense West Stretch and Seated Forward Fold.
Research also indicates that shoulder stand is particularly effective as the pose calms the body, “lowering blood pressure by clamping down on the carotids effectively making the local pressure very high. This sends a message to the parasympathetic system, which assumes that the brain tissues are suffering from too much blood, and orders the heart and circulatory system to compensate with pressure cuts.”[sic] (The Science of Yoga: the risks and the rewards – W.J Broad).
In addition to practicing asanas, Yogic breathing has been shown to have a positive effect on blood pressure. Even for those who’ve never been exposed to yoga before, deep breathing can help to reduce the effects of constant daily stress, including rise in blood pressure. Conscious breathing lowers blood pressure (as well as the amount of the stress hormone cortisol) that is present in the body. Extended pranayama can lead to a sustained lower heart rate. A recent study showed beneficial effects even from short-term practice of regular pranayama and meditation techniques, with significant reduction in resting pulse rate, systolic, diastolic and mean arterial blood pressure. Pranayama has been shown to influence the cardiovascular system with decrease in heart rate, and blood pressure:
- Uijayi Pranayama (or Victorious Breath): This is a balanced and calming breathing technique which builds heat in the body and increases oxygenation, it also this also affects the cartiod sinus which helps to normalize high blood pressure, and
- Naddi Shoddi (or alternate nostril breathing): This is very calming to the nervous system as a whole.
Meditation is another beneficial yogic practice for people with high blood pressure. The body’s physical reaction to stress is not always the same for everyone, but with negative stress there is no real relaxation between one stress situation and the next. Meditation is the study of concentration. The mind and body are very intimately connected; when the mind is completely at ease, the whole body gains complete rest. Practicing meditation techniques in times of physical or mental stress helps to manage the “fight or flight” response to negative stress and lower blood pressure.
There is no single meditation technique that is best for everyone. The right technique is the one which focuses the mind and to elicit the relaxation response. Some examples of meditation techniques are:
- Deep Breathing Meditation: This meditation can be practiced almost anywhere and is the cornerstone for many other relaxation practices.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation: A technique for reducing anxiety by alternately tensing and relaxing the muscles. As the body relaxes so too does the mind.
- Mindfulness: By focusing attention on a single repetitive action such as a word, mantra, breathing, picture or candle the mind becomes calm and focused, bringing the nervous system into balance.
- Yoga Nidra: A guided practice, which puts the body and mind into a deep state of relaxation.
According to many studies, high blood pressure is influenced by the stress and strain of the modern lifestyle. There is a wealth of clinically significant research that suggests adopting yogic practices and principles can help to improve health and mental well-being, increasing resiliency to stress, and, by extension, to high blood pressure. It may seem like stating the obvious, but if one reduces stresses on the mind and the body by eating healthy diet focused on pure, wholesome and nutritious foods, practicing yoga asanas, pranayama and meditation the blood pressure can be controlled within normal limits.
Important note: If you want to try any of the previous suggestions, do not stop any prescribed medications without consulting with your doctor first. Most of these studies have shown that alternative therapies have the ability to help people with pre or mild hypertension avoid medication, or help people who can’t tolerate medications, but are not effective enough for people with severe cases to get off medication altogether. People with hard-to-control blood pressure, however, can use these therapies in conjunction with medication to help bring their numbers down even more.
I recently did my annual Yoga Retreat (17-19 April 2015) with a group of my yogis at HaPhororo Retreat Centre in Hartbeespoortdam and would like to share some insights that came out of this retreat and again why a retreat is so important, the immeasurable value of a yoga retreat.
A retreat refreshes and revitalizes, gives the opportunity for more time spent in meditation, contemplation, yoga and rekindles and deepens one’s relationship with the Divine. A retreat is an opportunity to seek out Divine Grace, to surrender to the silence and hear the Inner Voice speaks and thereby attain a degree of spiritual renewal. The purpose of a spiritual retreat, as an addition to daily spiritual activities, is to temporarily leave behind the usual distractions we all face for a time long enough to allow relaxation and for an inner change to occur: the ongoing conversion of heart that is critical to deepening our resolve to stick to our chosen Spiritual Path.
When I think of retreats I am always inspired by Christ who went away for long periods or who got up very early in the morning to pray in a solitary place (Mark 1:35-37). Sometimes Jesus would spend an entire night in retreat: “In those days he departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God. (Luke 6:12). And, this is also relayed: “The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.’ People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place.” (Mark 6: 30-32) No doubt, the apostles were energized by the response of the crowds they encountered, but they still needed a chance to recharge before carrying on. A Yoga Retreat adheres to this calling and I want to encourage my yogis and every yogi to at least undertake one Yoga Retreat in your life with your teacher.
The Basic Elements of Retreat
Retreats differ from conferences, seminars, and meetings in that the primary work is interior spiritual development through a prolonged period of reflection rather than simply being exposed to information and techniques. The retreats I organised are based around a traditional offering of plenty own time for reflection balanced with activities (talks, yoga, walks, labyrinths, golden silence, meditation etc). For me a retreat must include:
- Minimum duration. A common format is a three day retreat that begins Friday evening and ends Sunday afternoon. However as everybody noted during our last retreat at HaPhororo, another day would have been beneficial. And we have decided to extend the end of the year Retreat with another day.
- Meals. Having meals at the retreat site avoids disruption of leaving to another location for meals or cooking it self; the meal becomes, instead, an effective component of the retreat and plays a role parallel to the fellowship meals that Jesus shared with his Apostles. HaPhororo offered us a delectable and fantastic vegetarian meal three times dialy. It is important to realise just as the soul is nourished during a retreat the body will need good sattvic nourishment to keep up with the spiritual nourishment.
- Adequate time specifically set aside for meditation, contemplation and silence. Each retreat should maintain a balance between meditation, contemplation, silence and the other activities. It is in the moments of silence that we internalize and grasp the spiritual lessons we learned during a retreat. It is during these moments of silence that our understanding of yoga and our own spiritual side deepens.
- A restful setting, with availability of nature walks. In order to accomplish the goal of “retreat,” the site should have some degree of insulation from the ordinary busy life; even if located in the heart of a city, the retreat site should have grounds for walking and a relatively quiet and peaceful atmosphere and Haphororo strike a wonderful balance in this case.
- Personal space. We all need personal space away from the other retreat goers at some point during the day to reflect on our own, to rest, a retreat is hard work on many levels, and HaPhororo offered excellent accommodation with ample opportunity for privacy.
- Spiritual direction. Though not everyone may take advantage of it, my retreats offer the opportunity for yogis to speak to me, to get guidance, spiritual direction and for many a retreat renew their commitment to their spiritual path.
Encouraging Retreat Participation
Usually personal retreats can be arranged with very little effort and the retreat centre leave it up to you what and how much you want to do. Personally I am not for this type of retreat, because very often you end up doing nothing and the purpose of visiting a retreat site is lost.
A group retreat inherently encourage individuals on the retreat to participate, to get involved and ultimately your participation lead to greater and deeper understanding, the development of your own inner wisdom and also grasping the path of yoga more fully.
If you are in another country or even city in South Africa and you are reading this, I want to encourage you to do a retreat and a retreat is best done with your own teacher. I know there are many retreats being advertised, but I do not encourage people to do a retreat with a stranger. Only your teacher will know you, if your teacher doesn’t do retreats, why not encourage them to present a retreat.
To Yoga Teachers (South Africa only)
Are you a yoga teacher and want to present a retreat but have no idea what to do on a retreat, how to go about it? I will present a Retreat Workshop for Yoga Teachers in 2016, if you are interested please send me a message and I will contact you with all the costs, dates and venue information. I have spend many hours and days with my own teacher on retreats, attend various retreats in India in 2005, 2007 and 2009. I have conducted 5 retreats with my own yogis up to date and would like to impart and share my knowledge with other teachers who would like to offer retreats to their yogis.
Yoga has always been practiced in both the East and West, so it would be an error to consider yoga as exclusively “Eastern”. In fact, yoga, with its powerful techniques for creating a sense of inner peace, harmony, and clarity of mind, is absolutely relevant to the modern world – both East and West. Given the increasing pace and conflict present in modern life, with all its resulting stress, one could say that yoga has become an essential tool for survival, as well as for expanding the creativity and joy of our lives.
Although yoga does not “belong” to the East, it is easiest to trace its roots there, because cultural change has not obscured the origins of the science, and an ongoing tradition of yoga has continued to the present day. No one person “invented” yoga – yoga is a living tradition, a set of practices that dates back for centuries. And as such I would like to introduce some thoughts on the 5 Yamas that might make it easier for the Western yogi to understand and assimilate into his/her life.
AHIMSA – THE ACT OF NON-VIOLENCE
For many Western yogis this Yama is problematic in the sense that many yoga teachers immediately associate it with their diets and going vegetarian, not harming animals by not eating them and some teachers will paint the horrors of abattoirs to the yogis to drive home their point. However, those same teacher’s fridges are packed with amazing veggies, fruits and nuts flown in from the Middle-East, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. All the linen, plates and glasses in their cupboards are imported from China – because it was so cheap!
My approach is to consider the violence that was perpetrated against the Earth to get those magnificent veggies, fruits and nuts to South Africa. How much Ahimsa is in your decision to buy imported stuff from China if you consider their poor human rights record (think Tibet here), disregard for the environment and life in general, lost jobs in your own country because you support them by buying their goods?
For me Ahimsa starts with the little things we do. Support local farmers and their produce, that way you keep people in a job and you minimise your violent carbon foot print on the Earth. Support local industry by buying what is produced in your country at much better quality usually that the stuff from China. Once you have done that, then consider more challenging issues such as vegetarianism, again nobody says you have to be a vegetarian to do yoga, but perhaps you can support Meat Free Mondays or cut back on your meat consumption to say three times a week initially?
I know many yogis who are vegetarians who commit so much violence against their bodies because they insist to follow a lifestyle that is strictly speaking not suitable for everybody. They are ill, have all sorts of muscular problems, so many is diabetic and most of them are severely depressed due to a lack of B-vitamins in their diets and resort to violent medication to help them “cope” with life – not much Ahimsa in such a life either.
SATYA – THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE
Most of us try not to lie, we earnestly strive to be honest in our daily life and for most Western yogis this Yama is actually the easy one. Thou shall not tell lies, is one of the 10 Commandments so we grew up with it, we are experienced in this Yama.
However, Satya is more than just not telling lies. It is about telling the truth about yourself as well. It is a known fact that people, who are honest about themselves to others, are in fact much happier than individuals who withhold info about themselves or who pretend to be straight if they are in fact gay for example. This extends to your truth on your spiritual life as well; do you live two spiritual lives – one for the yogis and one for the friends and family not to upset them too much? Sometimes it is difficult and scary to that honest as we all fear rejection, judgement and criticism. But, living in fear constitutes living a lie and it is not worth the sadness and anger that comes with such a life.
Satya has wonderful benefits and here are a few to ponder and consider:
- Truthfulness grounds you in yourself. We weather the emotional storms much better when we are truthful, we are less dependent on approval from others and the pressure to conform is reduced.
- Truthfulness makes you trustworthy—both to yourself and to others. Other people see your transparency and feel that they can trust you.
- Truthfulness deepens relationships. It opens the door for genuine intimacy. Your honesty promotes honesty in others. It empowers them and gives them permission to be honest themselves. When people share honestly with each other about their feelings and their needs, everyone is more likely to have their needs met.
ASTEYA – DO NOT STEAL MY ENERGY
Again Asteya is a Yama that we are familiar with in the Western and Christian view of the world. It is one of the 10 Commandments and a Yama that we practiced since a very young age. But I want to look beyond the physical act of not stealing to the subtle art of spiritual stealing that most of us commit.
When we speak about theft at its core, it is when a person believes that anything is his – his money, his belongings, his spiritual growth, his spiritual connection. When a person is of the consciousness that these things are mine, he is stealing. Why? Because the truth is that everything is from the Divine. Nothing is really ours.
Your daily life is made up by the concept that this is mine and that is yours and we get upset when people intrude and “steal” from us. When we start to implement and practice Asteya it is inevitable that our worldview will also start to change from mine to ours. As long as we belief this and that is mine, it obscures our truth (Satya) and almost every argument and every form of negativity that comes about in a person’s life is based upon this concept of mine. And that is the stealing, to which I would like to refer here.
BRAHMACHARYA – A LIFE WITHOUT SEX?
In the classical understanding of yoga Brahmacharya refers to exactly that, celibacy, life without sex and this is a ghastly thought for many Westerners as most yogis in the West today are not monk, sannyasas or ascetics living in mountain caves or ashrams somewhere in the Himalayas. No, most Western yogis are householders, they are already married or in relationships and this will be an unfair expectation to most. On another level we refer to it then as fidelity in your relationship, being faithful and trustful to your partner in life. However, I want to look at the spiritual aspect of Brahmacharya.
We live in an age where we are bombarded with new spiritual ideas and concepts on a daily basis. And the temptation to take from that path and from this one and from that one is great, because we see in each of them something that rings true for us. However, my yoga teacher, Sri Durga Devi, was adamant that once we have investigated and explored all the paths, we should choose a path and stick to that path. Be faithful to that path, defend it no matter what and this is the spiritual Brahmacharya we all must practice at some point. My path is the path of yoga, I’ll defend it always and first and foremost I will promote it as one of the best paths to follow, I’ll always answer a question with yoga philosophy in mind, I’ll always ask myself what would my own teacher have said. The value of practicing spiritual Brahmacharya to your path is legio, but the greatest is that your focus is concentrated and you can make much bigger spiritual jumps than when you are unfaithful to your path and take a little from this path and a little from that one.
APARIGRAHA – DO I WANT OR DO I NEED
The principle idea behind Aparigraha is that we should strive to live a life that is not ruled by greed. Problem is in the World today we have constructed a world economy and financial system that is inherently based on greed. It is also in the nature of humans to want to have more and big business knows this and they pounce on this human trait by means of advertising which is based on fear most of the time.
In South Africa there is an advertisement for a large banking group where a man stands in a shop looking at a pair of shoes and he really desire to have those shoes. Then there comes a voice that asks if he wants it of if he needs it? His answer is:”I want to need it!” Unfortunately this is where the good part of the ad stops, next moment they offer him a credit card with which his greed is then fulfilled.
Most of us are on a daily basis torn between what we want and what we need and the practice of Aparigraha becomes so much more important for us. When I am torn between what I want and need, I always take a moment and ask myself do I really need this or is it just my greed, my fears that let me belief I want it. It’s a simple practice, but it has helped me not only to save thousands of Rands over the last ten years of my life, but it has paved the way for a simpler and less complicated existence as well, and there in is the value of Aparigraha for the yogi.
Most of us want to do yoga 3-4 times a week, however there are time, money and other constraints such as family life and work. And on top of that it is for most of us a challenge to know where to start. By the time you get home, you have most probably forgot the intricate yoga class your teacher sequenced and tomorrow morning you are stuck because for the life of you, you just can’t remember what your teacher did or even said. So where do you start? I would like to share a few tips with and hope it will put you on the right path as it helped me years ago to develop my own home practice.
Space & Time
First set a special spot aside where you will only practice yoga, where your cats and dogs can’t distract you or bother you for attention and where you can build your yoga energy. If you would like to do your yoga in your garden, choose a spot and make sure you feel comfortable there. What time to practice? I personally like to practice at the end of my day, late afternoon, but this is me, you can choose a time that would be more conducive to you and your practice, but make sure you can stick to that time on the days you have selected to do a home practice.
Have a goal in mind
The next tip is to decide initially why do you want to develop a home practice. It is to relief some physical pain? Do you just want to do it to relax? Or do you want to develop your core? Choosing a specific reason why you want to develop a home practice assist you in sticking to that programme and time. If the objective is just to add more yoga to your life, there is little motivation behind it for you, which will cause you most probably to abandon the practice.
But, having a specific goal in mind – for example I want to do yoga to help with my back pain – helps you to stick to programme and it also narrows down the asanas you have to remember. If your yoga teacher has knowledge of you back problem, he/she has already indicated in class which asanas are beneficial for your problem. So listen in the class and remember the asanas that are specific to your problem.
Or, do you want to develop a yoga home practice to help you to relax after a hard day, again listen to your teacher, he/she will indicate which asanas are calmative and relaxing. Also remember the ones that made you feel relaxed and more in tune with yourself and add them to your home practice.
Practice a shorter flow
It will be a long time before you will be able to remember a full 45 minute sequenced class. So, what is the solution? Practice a shorter version of a class and do the asanas you can remember. My yoga teacher, Sri Durga, use to say that the benefit of yoga is not in the doing of the asana, but in the holding. Why not try to do a few asanas, but really try to hold them and repeat them, there is no rule that says you can’t repeat an asana for, five or even six times! And limit your time initially to 15 or 20 minutes, stop, relax then and get off your mat and continue your day.
Add Pranayama & Meditation
A home practice isn’t just asanas. How about adding pranayama as part of your home practice? In class there is most probably very little time for a long session of pranayama, but at home you have the perfect opportunity to get into Anuloma Viloma Pranayama for example and work on those in breaths and activate those stomach muscles to help with the out breath. And, after that pranayama you have the perfection moment for a good meditation. Remember the Eight Limbs of yoga doesn’t consist of asana and pranayama only, there are the yamas and niyamas, pratyahara, dharana (do candle gazing to add to your concentration), dhyana and then samadhi – these can all be added to your home practice.
The most important aspect of your home practice is that you do what is good and fun for you. Sometimes you can challenge yourself with an asana you struggle with, but please always remember – Safety First! If you want to, add props like straps, blocks and bolsters to help you with your home practice. And lastly, always end your practice with a relaxation in Savasana (corpse pose), you can use your favourite music or some guided relaxation on a CD or DVD to end your session.
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” ~Buddha
Many of us has programmed our lives with certain statements, ideas and thoughts, which we belief to be true and we repeat this process of affirming these statements, ideas and thoughts on a daily basis. Sometimes we repeat the same statement over and over to such an extend that we become that statement. The sad part of most these statements, ideas and thoughts are that they are repeated out of fear, ignorance and because we firmly belief that is who I AM.
My career life started out in 1994 as a 2nd language teacher and during my first year (I started teaching in the middle of the year) I inherited a class who was neglected by their previous teachers and who had a 0% pass rate in Afrikaans 2nd language. They all belief that they couldn’t spell and they didn’t want to learn Afrikaans (at that point SA changed from Apartheid government to the democratic elected ANC-led government) and would usually use statements such as “I don’t want to learn Afrikaans” or “I have never been able to spell” or “I don’t need languages, I am going to be a scientist” to convince me to give up on them.
Initially my work was less about teaching them Afrikaans than it was about teaching them that a change in their beliefs about themselves and changing their minds about their future will benefit them.
“I never want to hear you say you’re not good at Afrikaans in my class again,” I’d say. I’d ask them to switch to “I’m learning Afrikaans” or “I’m getting better at Afrikaans” or “I’m working on my spelling.”
So whenever they would employ negative self-talk I would draw their attention to that, stop the class and then transform it into positive statements. “I know it sounds freaky, but give it a chance,” I’d have to say. “Yes, I know it you don’t feel like changing your mind yet!” They’d roll their eyes and just laughed at me. Slowly but surely some of them started to change their minds, started to realise the impact of positive self-talk in their lives and some of them actually started to enjoy Afrikaans. Some of them employ it in their other subjects and they were less overwhelmed at the enormity of passing matric that year. By the end of that year and in the final exam nearly 60% of that class passed Afrikaans.
Keep Calm and Change Your Mind
Most of us repeat negative thinking patterns and self-defeating ideas, we sometimes nurture it, because that is all we know and we feel safe in them, even though we wish at the same time we could change it all. Well, there is a way out, it can change and that change starts with you changing your mind!
Let’s draw the class with language issue closer to our own lives. For a moment think of a statement that you hold to be true for you. Now, think carefully, where does that statement come from, who told you that it is true for you? And why do you keep nurturing that statement, even though you know it is not true for you, even though you know it makes you unhappy and want to change it.
If you read this blog, I am sure you know what is an affirmation. And this is the golden key to changing you mind and ultimately your life. Affirmations – I’m sure you’ve heard about them. An affirmation is, simply, positive self-talk, its a way of changing your mind. It’s a statement about ourselves or our situation, phrased in the present tense as if the statement is already true.
Affirmations are agents of change in our lives. I’d like to share with you 4 steps which I use to create mind changing affirmations:
- Identify your negative self-talk, thoughts, ideas and beliefs about yourself.
- Take those thoughts, ideas etc and create an affirmation for each one out of what you have written down.
- The next step is to carry those affirmations with you and use them, daily!
- And in time you’ll see the change you want to see in your life.
1. Step One: Identify those negative ideas and thoughts
I know you would want to type it on your PC or Tablet, but be old fashioned, sit down, think about them and write them down in a diary or journal. It is important that we physically connect our neurons with these ideas and thoughts on paper and at the same time we intuitively connect to them as well. What our bodies do, our subconscious learns from.
Fold a the page in your journal in half lengthwise, and then unfold it. On the lift side, write a list of those self-limiting statements you’ve been thinking and saying. “I can’t afford a new car.” Or “It’s hard to lose weight.” Or “I’ll never be successful in my career.”
Now, for a few days listen to yourself, write down the negative self-talk, thoughts and ideas as they arise, make note of the situation in which they have arise and why. Once you are sure you have exhausted that topic it is time for the next step.
2. Step Two: Create some affirmations out of those old beliefs.
This is the difficult step in this process. You need to create new statements for yourself, positive ones that can replace the old ones. Remember your fear of the unknown, your comfort zone will make it initially difficult to come up with new statements, but persist, it will come to you.
Down the right side of your paper, across from each left-side statement, write a new one that transforms that negative statement into a positive.
- “I can’t afford a new car” becomes “A new car is a real possibility for me.”
- “It’s hard to lose weight” becomes “Losing weight is easy for me.”
- “I’ll never be successful in my career” becomes “I’m good at my job and deserves success.”
The new statements must be in the present tense. Write “I am…” rather than “I will be…” or “I’m going to be…” Avoid using the word “try” because “I’m trying” is a self-perpetuating statement.
To get around your disbelief about writing something that feels untrue and seems impossible, you can write things like “I’m learning to….” and “I’m getting better at….” It’s still present tense, still a positive affirmation. Something like “I’m getting better at saving money” might feel better than “I’m good at saving money.”
3. Step 3: Begin using the new affirmation statements.
The next step is to make those affirmations part of your life and to start to belief them. As you repeat them over and over they will become the new tune according to which your life will unfold.
However, I have to warn you, changing years and years of programming isn’t easy, it take will, effort and determination to change your mind. And if you slip, don’t stay and wallow in the mud, pick yourself up and start by repeating those new affirmations again. If you catch yourself thinking or saying any of your old (negative) beliefs, stop yourself. Transform it into the positive, right then and there.
Ask your family and friends to help by simply pointing out any negative self-descriptions when you say them. When they do, transform the negative to the positive immediately, and say the new statement aloud to them.
You’re literally changing your mind.
4. Step 4: See the Change unfolding
Goethe said: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”
Changing your mind doesn’t happen over night. But starting to manifest a positive life with greater possibilities must be better than what we have. The power of this process is, as you change, those around you will see the change, and they will be influenced by that change. You become a powerful agent for change not only in your own life, but also in the lives of those around you. And that is an empowering thought I think.
My dear yoga teacher, Sri Durga, used to say that the only constant we can be sure of is change. Change is inevitable. No matter what we do, it is busy happening right now, even while you are reading this article, change is happening in the NOW all the time. Change is the way of the Universe and of the Divine, change is the creative Force that ensures the evolution of our souls, without it we cannot make our spiritual jumps.
However, humans are afraid of change and for that reason we resist change. Change challenges us on too many levels and it brings greater awareness into our consciousness and that relentless wave of choice after another we have to make can be tiresome and scary for many. Instead of embracing change, many of us choose to rather live in a fearful place, where we lie to ourselves about the Truth of change. How we deal with change can change how we create a better life for ourselves. How we accept change into our lives as part of our spiritual evolution cannot only change you, but also the world around you. It is a law of the Universe, when you start to change, the world will change with you. The secret is how to successfully deal with change and how to ensure that we make positive changes and I hope my article will inspire you to incorporate change in your life.
This is the way of the universe. And this is the dilemma for most people. If we keep on resisting change it usually happens in any case with a huge bang, calamity or crises in our lives. Either you make the change or something is going to make the change for you. The secret is to learn how to deal with the force of change in our lives. So instead of resisting, why not try to flow with change, anticipate the change you need to make and implement it in a structured way in your life before the Universe force the change onto you! Yes, I know, sometimes change is forced upon us through events and people outside of us over which we had no control. But, instead of going into panic mode, try to look at the change in a calm way and see you can deal with it immediately and how you can accept the changes it will affect in your life.
Control your Response
So, we have learned that change will happen, no matter what. The next logical notion will be instead of fearing change, why not rather focus our energy on our response to change? And this boils down to the choices we make in life. While most of us like to see change as just another obstacle in our way, we are frustrated by that obstacle and the choices we must make and we choose to ignore it. Instead of ignoring it or seeing it as just another negative in your life, change your mind about how you perceive change itself in your life. See the choices you have and see them as opportunities, a window opening, a fresh approach and become a vehicle for change and not the one that tries to block change all the time. And the approach starts with making choices that you are happy and comfortable with. Yes, sometimes we must make difficult choices, but those choices will serve you well in the long term.
What we resist, persists
The truth about this statement from Jung has another side to it: that which we resist not only persists, but also grows in size! When we start to accept that change is part of us and who we are to become, then only can we start to dissolve the many issues arising from resisting change in our lives. We will try to erect many barriers to protect ourselves against the onslaught of change, we have our comfort zone where things are so good we don’t want to change them. We prefer the familiar and known rather than the unfamiliar and unknown. We don’t like surprises and will avoid them at all cost. And finally, ignorance is bliss, or so we think! We can live just so long in ignorance until change will force you out of it and usually in a violent way if you don’t implement change.
In order for the tree to sprung new leaves, blossoms and fruit in spring and summer, it has to give up something and as such, we need to learn that change means to give up something in order for the new to come forth in our lives.
Allow change to become a positive force in your life, let it not be the monster you fear, but make it your friend, allow it to become the force that helps you to improve your life, finding new meaning and a different way of seeing your life. And lastly, realise that if you hold onto things for too long, they will start to hurt you. Out of denial and fear we may choose to ignore the signposts along our journey, but ignoring those signs will only lead you to more trouble and difficulty. Read the signs, pay attention to them and if it says the road will curve to the left in front, don’t try to force straight ahead, rather follow the curve and you might be surprised about what is around that corner!
This is the great outcome of accepting change in our lives: our awareness grows exponentially with it. The quality of our lives will change, because we come from a place of positive energy instead of negative resistance. The beauty of change is that it expands our wisdom. We come better prepared for our world and what it will throw at us and we have peace about our path in life. Changes afford us new ideas and experiences and this in turn develop our understanding and expand our awareness not only of ourselves and our place in the Universe, but also of others and how we impact them.
We sit in a room with many windows and doors around us, but due to fear and denial, we become too fixated on this one door or one window, that we tend to forget to see the other windows and doors in our room. Close your eyes, now take a deep breath in, open your eyes and look around you, your room is full of other windows and doors, beaming with opportunity for you. In the words of Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”